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How To Be Paid What You Are Worth

Earning the salary you deserve seems like it should be fairly straightforward. Get the right degree, have the right experience, land a good job and earn the going rate for your type of position, right? Well, not exactly. Two people who hold the same position in the same company may, in fact, earn very different salaries.

If you don’t want to get the raw end of the deal in your salary negotiation, here’s how to make sure you’re paid what you’re worth in 8 easy steps.

Get Comfortable with Negotiation
First and foremost, getting paid what you’re worth comes down to asking for it. For the vast majority of salaried positions, pay rates are somewhat negotiable, meaning that if you convince your employer that your value to the company is higher than their initial offer, then you’ll land a higher salary. Talking about money can be uncomfortable – polite society trains us to avoid the topic at almost all costs – but when it comes to earning what you deserve, you can’t be shy. And then there’s that other taboo, talking about how great you are. Get comfortable with both topics. There’s no way around them (except of course being underpaid).

Start Your Research
Before you even begin thinking about an exact number to shoot for, start with some general research on salaries in your field. For up-to-date figures, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Handbook is a good bet, as are industry associations. By starting more generally, you’ll get a big picture that can serve as a guide for your overall planning – not just how much you ought to make in this job, but how much you ought to be earning now and in the future.

Narrow Your Scope
Once you’ve got some ideas about your industry more generally, now is the time to get down to the nitty-gritty. You’ll need to do geographic research (since salaries often vary by region and city), company research, and research on salaries for the exact position you hold or are applying to. Talk to people in human resources, head to the library, conduct online salary survey research, look at job postings for salary listings, and even be so bold as to ask professionals in your field for information, preferably people with positions senior to yours so that you’re not asking about their personal salaries directly (a politeness no-no) but salaries for a lower position they have experience with.

Quantify Yourself
After figuring out the salary range for your specific skills and your specific job, figuring out where you fall in that range comes down to quantifying yourself. Additional schooling or years of experience may be worth many thousands of dollars. A track record of saving the company money or bringing in more earnings can also up your value. Look at yourself honestly, and then assign honest numbers (based on your research) to your education, your skills, and your past and predicted contributions. You may deserve a salary at the top of the range for your position, or you may deserve a salary somewhere in the middle or even on the lower end of the range. Even if that’s the case, you’ll have the information you need to ensure your salary is increasing along with your career development.

Practice Your Pitch
You know how much you’re asking for, and you have your reasons all lined up. Before you head in for the real negotiation, practice, practice, practice. Knowing what you want to say, exactly how you’re going to say it, and having heard yourself say it successfully already will help you keep cool in the critical moment. Your confidence is as important as your argument itself.

Lay Your Cards on the Table
Whether you’re joining a company for the first time or negotiating for a pay raise, head into the money talk with your head held high. You’ve done your homework, so now be brave and say what you came to say. Being forthright will almost always serve you better than playing games, so aim high, but know how much you really deserve and exactly what offer you will accept.

Be Prepared to Hold Out
Salary negotiations require bravery not just because talking about money can be tough, but also because employers are often as determined to pay you less as you are to earn more. The result is that you may have to hold out — turning down a job that pays less than you’re worth, delaying a start date while negotiations carry on and on, or leaving a company you love for one that compensates you more fairly. If you’re being offered less than you deserve and you know it, be prepared to wait for something better.

Keep Your Promise
A one-time salary negotiation is not the end the story. If you’ve argued successfully that you’re worth so much to a company, the next time you’re promoted or moving on to a new employer you’ll have a track record that proves you’re more than talk. Thorough salary research and strong salary negotiation are critical to earning what you deserve, but you and your work performance are the biggest determinants of your long-term worth.

Being paid what you’re worth will make you happier both on and off the job. While the unhappy gap in earnings between employees in similar positions may seem like a mystery, with these 8 easy steps you’ve got the mystery solved. Get comfortable with negotiation, start your research, narrow your research, practice your pitch, lay your cards on the table, be prepared to hold out, keep your promise, and get ready to earn what you deserve, now and in the future.

Publish date: June 21, 2008